New Oratorio of Abraham on October 25, 2014

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It has been my privilege to be preparing to sing with the adult choir of Deo Cantamus. This Saturday evening at 7 PM we will be performing the world premiere of the oratorio Abraham by Joshua Bauder. The performance will be held in the auditorium of Fourth Baptist Church in Plymouth, MN. If you are in the area, please join us. Admission is $5. If you can’t join us in person, perhaps you can take advantage of the live stream on the web site. Thanks for praying for this event. It will stir your soul, and remind you of the wonders of our promise-making and promise-keeping God.

The Truth is to be Obeyed

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In Galatians 5:7-12, the Spirit of God enables Paul to write concerning the truth. He wants the Galatian believers to consider the identity of the person who has hindered their progress (5:7). It certainly isn’t God! (5:8) These false-teachers and false-brothers have been cutting them off in the race. They are now stumbling down the course trying to regain their balance. That’s what Paul is trying to help them with.

This progress is referred to in 5:7 as “obeying the truth.” We could appropriately translate it as “be persuaded by the truth.” In fact, there are three uses of the root concept of persuasion: 5:7 (obey), 8 (persuasion), and 10 (confidence).

John Eadie, in his helpful commentary on Galatians writes:

Truth was the course, and obedience was a progress. … The truth is the truth of the gospel. … That truth is opposed in the apostle’s mind not simply to what is false, but to every modification or perversion of it, under any guise which would rob it of its efficacy, mar its symmetry, or in anyway injure its adaptation to man. And the truth is to be obeyed; not simply understood or admired, but obeyed. (389, 390; emphasis mine)

Sometimes it seems to me that we are fairly good at admiring or even understanding the truth. But we really struggle with obeying the truth. To obey the truth is to be so persuaded that it is true Truth that it transforms the way we live, think, and desire. When we genuinely embrace the truth, it transforms us.

Standing By God’s Elbow

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While doing some reading during a time of convalescence, I came across this delightful quote in Pastor William Gurnall’s helpful book, The Christian in Complete Armor. Gurnall (1616-1679) pastored in Lavenham of Suffolk (northeast of London) for approximately 35 years.

This wise pastor wrote to the dear flock of God among whom he faithfully ministered:

Thou mayst know thou art elect, as surely by a work of grace in thee, as if thou hadst stood by God’s elbow when he writ thy name in the book of life. (96)

Even though his wording may sound quaint to our ears, let us not dismiss the Biblical teaching that remains true in our day. Genuine Christians can know that they truly are God’s children. The book of First John was written for that purpose. Assurance of salvation seems best understood from two perspectives: objective assurance and subjective assurance.

Objective assurance is what we find written in God’s inspired Word. By faith we tenaciously cling to what is written. There are certain truths that describe all those who are God’s elect. It never changes. It remains just the same today in the 21st century as it was in the 17th century during which Gurnall ministered. This focuses on God, what God says about our unchanging relationship with Him.

Subjective assurance is what we possess in our hearts. This, however, may fluctuate from time to time. We may wrestle with our feelings and imaginations. This subjective assurance tends to focus on Self, how we feel about our relationship with God at this present time. But thankfully, changes in subjective assurance do not change objective assurance. To say it another way, objective assurance must guide our subjective assurance. In other words, what is written must govern what is felt.

To be sure, some wrongfully claim subjective assurance of salvation who have no legitimate claim to objective assurance. These pseudo-brothers should not feel secure before God, but some still make the empty claim.

But there is a legitimate aspect to subjective assurance. Peter reminds us that subjective assurance can at times be based on the appropriate evidence of God’s work in our lives. Peter commands us in his second letter, Therefore brothers, make every effort to demonstrate the validity of your call and election, for while doing these things (1:5-7) you will never stumble. (2nd Peter 1:10)

What grace God grants to His children to know that they have eternal life (1st John 5:13)!

Do You Have Biter’s Remorse?

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We have all heard about buyer’s remorse. Who among us hasn’t regretted a purchase in a store or from a particular vender? Well, this morning I had biter’s remorse. I picked up a promising slice of cucumber and bit into it, assuming that the refreshing taste of summer would still be there. However, due to a variety of circumstances in the development of that cucumber, it was not pleasant. At all. Biter’s remorse caused me to spit out that cucumber slice.

But have you ever had spiritual biter’s remorse? I think it is safe to say Adam and Eve did in the garden, don’t you? Remember Genesis 3? Blaming someone except themselves. Solomon also describes biter’s remorse in Proverbs 20:17, “Bread gained by deceit tastes sweet to a person, but afterward his mouth is filled with gravel.” (NET) Judas experienced this in Matthew 27:23, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.” (CSBO)

Or that temptation we bit into recently that promised to be so satisfying, only to find our soul filled with remorse. Remember James 1:14-15? What once appeared so promising turned out to be harmful to us. The mood set by neon lights and dazzling sounds changed so rapidly once we took our first bite. “How could I have been so foolish?” we lament. “What was I thinking?” are words of regret I have often heard as a pastor. “How could a relationship with that other woman have appeared so attractive if I had been thinking Biblically about my wife?” “Why did I allow those thoughts of anticipated pleasure from sexual immorality to override what I know was right before God?” “Why did I as a unmarried Christian young woman allow that young man to do what he did to me for the now-broken promise of his love? What was I thinking?”

Remorse. Regret. But, in and of itself, this is not genuine repentance, is it? I will try another cucumber, most likely. I won’t let one bad experience change that. This spiritual biter’s remorse is little more than a self-centered dread of the consequences for what I have done. It was unpleasant, sure. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, true. I wish that what has been done could be undone.  But still there is no true change of heart.

Genuine repentance leads to a forsaking of the sin. This repentance is brought about by a change of heart caused by the Spirit of God. Read Second Corinthians 7:9-12. This is not biter’s remorse. It is God-honoring repentance to the glory of His name.

A Pastor’s Anxiety

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We have a tendency to evaluate all anxiety as being sinful. And I would generally agree with that evaluation. However, there is some anxiety that is Biblically appropriate because it focuses on God and His people. Let me explain how the Bible displays this type of anxiety in a good light.

First, remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in 4:20. He writes, “I am perplexed [aporeo Strong's # 639] about you.” We are reminded of the word picture indicating that we have reached the bank of the river and are unable to find the fording place. We are at a loss as to what to do next. We don’t know how to proceed in this situation. This uncertainty unsettles us, perplexes and disquiets us. There is no hint of sin at this stage. In fact, this sort of occasion can be healthy for us because it encourages us to turn to the only wise God for guidance. (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 16:27; 1st Timothy 1:17; Jude 1:25) You may want to look at the other uses of this verb (cf. John 13:22; Acts 25:20; and 2nd Corinthians 4:8) and the noun [aporia # 640] (cf. Luke 21:25).

Second, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of his concern for all the congregations he has worked with (2nd Corinthians 11:28). Here Paul utilizes a Greek word for concern [merimna # 3308]. You’ll recognize from the context that Paul is detailing indicators of his loving concern. Look at what he experienced while ministering to them. This is not sinful apprehensiveness, but appropriate concern for those we love. Sinful worry tends to focus on future possibilities of danger or misfortune. Legitimate concern knows that potential dangers exist and is concerned for those loved ones who may experience these potential dangers. Appropriate concern is referred to in 1st Corinthians 7:32-34. Sinful worry is condemned in Matthew 6:25ff and Philippians 4:6.

So, can pastors have legitimate anxiety for the flock among which they minister? Yes. Thank God that your pastor genuinely cares about the flock. Pray for your pastor that this anxiety will not shift over into the realm of sinful worry. Legitimate anxiety turns in faith to the omnipotent God, who works all things after the counsel of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:11). Sinful worry turns to the impotent resources of self.

Oh, I Didn’t Know That

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How many times have you found yourself saying/thinking, “Oh, I didn’t know that”? You had arrived at a conclusion regarding something/someone and upon getting more information, you said/thought, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have made the decision I made.” Can you say, “Buyer’s remorse”?

Someone once said that one of the most used words in heaven will be, “Oh ….” We don’t fully understand in the here and now what God is doing. But when we get to heaven He may reveal more details to us. We have whined and complained, we have doubted and feared, we have questioned or thought something too difficult. But when we arrive in His presence, we will probably say, “Oh, I didn’t know that. That makes sense now.” His wisdom is infinite, ours is not. See Psalm 147:5; Romans 11:33.

We do a similar thing in our evaluations of people and their circumstances. We arrive at a conclusion concerning someone, only later to learn something new. “Oh, I didn’t know that earlier.” We commend or else criticize people for a decision they made. Later, once we have more information, we say, “Oh, had I known that, I would have made a different decision.” Too often our commendations prove faulty. Too often are criticisms prove unfounded.

Will we humble ourselves and admit that we have been wrong in our judgments? Will we acknowledge the foolishness and disgrace associated with our attitudes and actions and seek forgiveness from those who have prematurely judged? Remember Proverbs 18:13, “The one who gives an answer before he listens, it is foolishness and disgrace to him.

Buyer’s remorse occurs when the true character of an unqualified pastor or deacon is revealed in time. It takes place when we eventually learn the true nature of someone we initially thought trustworthy. It occurs when we finally learn the background as to why someone in leadership made a decision with which we initially disagreed. How easy it is make a hasty commendation or condemnation.

May God grant us grace to make sober judgments. Sober-mindedness is not only beneficial, it is a necessity.

The Danger of Hypocrisy

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Pastor Stephen Davey, in his helpful book In Pursuit of Prodigals, wrote the following:

The truth is that hypocrisy in the pew is nowhere near as destructive and discouraging to a church as hypocrisy in the pulpit. (61)

Davey recounts the story of the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531).

In 1529, Ulrich Zwingli compromised his earlier pattern of discipline and refused to practice it any longer after his church became a member of the reformed State Church in Zurich. He change his view because, as he warned, the practice of discipline and excommunication toward unrepentant sinners “would cost too many preachers.” So in reality, sinful pastors would need to be dismissed and the Church couldn’t afford to lost them.

God’s Word would say otherwise. The Church actually cannot afford to keep them! (60)

Thank you, Pastor Davey, for this strong reminder.

Distracted by an Ecclesiastical Mirage?

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A mirage is a curious thing, is it not? It makes a shimmering promise to our imagination, but in reality it only delivers emptiness. So why use this term in relationship to churches? Because there are people who relate to local churches the way some people relate to mirages.

Mirages are deceptive distortions. They are not real! (do I really need to tell you that?) They have no substance. There are many churches today that are theological distortions of what the Bible actually teaches. “But they used the Bible, at first.” They appear to be something that they are not. They are illusory. How many people have found only dry sand where a lake seemed to appear at a distance? Or how many at sea found only more water where a mirage once promised an island? There are many churches that promise to be a place where people can worship God, but in reality they deliver something quite different to the attenders. Worship may be promised, but entertainment (or something even worse) is delivered. “But it seemed so ‘on fire for God,’ at first.” So it seemed.

Mirages are disappointing. I once heard an account of some professing believers from one established church who were so fascinated with an ecclesiastical mirage that they left en masse for a start up church. It wasn’t too long before they began to question, “What have we done? This isn’t what we thought it would be. Why did we leave the last church in the first place?” More hot dry sand is not as refreshing as the shimmering promise of fresh water, is it?

Mirages can be distracting. Some people have traveled great distances to get to where a mirage seemed to be located, only to find themselves miles off course from their original path. There are many families that have been led astray by an ecclesiastical mirage, only to find themselves shamefaced for being led far astray from Biblical teaching. “But it seemed like such a good church, at first.” The time and effort wasted chasing a mirage is little different than the man driving furiously as he chases the ever-elusive end of the rainbow.

The word mirage may be a early 1800’s French term borrowed from Latin, but there is no doubt that it is a concept that has been around for a long time. How many times are New Testament believers warned about spiritual deception? Consider 1st Corinthians 6:9; 15:33; 2nd Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 6:7; 2nd Timothy 3:13; Titus 3:3; James 1:16; 1st John 1:8; 2:26; 3:7.

Don’t be one of these people who attempt to embrace a shimmering theological or ecclesiastical mirage and end up off course and in danger. Cling to the absolute of God’s Word. Hold fast to True Truth, as Francis Schaeffer used to say. It will never disappoint. In fact it is a command. “But examine all things; hold fast to [the teaching that] is good; keep away from every form of evil [teaching].” (1st Thessalonians 5:21-22)

When You Don’t Feel Connected At Church

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Came across a helpful post this AM on connectedness and the local church. You can read it here. There are some very helpful ideas.

Someone once said, in a similar vein, that having interest in one’s church is like having interest in a savings account. You need to put something into it to get something out of it. If you are simply looking to get something rather than to give something, you clearly have the wrong idea. A Biblical church rightly deserves involvement. As the linked post points out, that involvement includes, but is not limited to:

  • Biblical stewardship of time–faithful attendance (Acts 2:42)
  • Biblical stewardship of money–faithful giving (2nd Corinthians 8:1-5)
  • Biblical practice of prayer–faithfully agonizing in prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2, 12)
  • Biblical practice of fellowship (Acts 2:42)
  • Biblical practice of hospitality (Acts 2:46)

Do some research on the use of the verb proskartereo [# 4342] and its derivative proskarteresis [# 4343]. It will serve you well. Deliberately strive to make the connection you claim to long for. And be thankful that your own body parts don’t treat the rest of your physical body the way you treat the spiritual body of Christ!

Don’t Treat Your Pastor Like a Slice of Bread

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Came across this illustration recently in a different context than church, but the sentiment is the same. You treat someone like a slice of bread when you try to butter them up! It’s also called flattery. Consider Proverbs 26:28, “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (NKJ) See also Proverbs 29:5, “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (NKJ)

One church I attended had social times after their services at which the women of the church would serve heavily buttered bread. My siblings and I still refer to these as “_______ sandwiches” in honor of that particular church. They consisted of a slice of bread spread with a thick layer of butter, over which was spread another layer of butter, which in turn was topped with yet another layer of butter. Yum! Butter was cheaper in those days.

Over the years I have been “buttered” by a variety of people, but probably no more so than by one particular family (who will remain anonymous). Sadly, while they buttered the bread publicly with one hand, they worked hard at privately scraping what they perceived as burnt toast with the other. You understand, I think. The mushy compliments that flowed on Sunday after the sermon were certainly spread on thick, sometimes with tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Yet I soon began to realize that it was not butter that was being spread. Years later I came to learn that the family would spread it on thick after the service, but once they got home would scrape it off and tear me to shreds in front of their children. No wonder their children exhibited the attitudes they did.

By all means, it is not wrong to compliment your pastor. Express your gratitude in a Godward manner. Encourage him in a God-centered way. But do him and yourself a favor; be sincere when you talk with him. Don’t lie to him about your response to what you just heard. A Biblically appropriate compliment can be a great complement to a life transformed by the power of God’s Spirit using the Word of God for the glory of God and for the good of God’s people. Don’t treat your pastor like a slice of bread.

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